(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

It is not easy for a young woman to make her mark in the investment banking industry. Globally, the domain of investment banking remains a fortress of male domination, says Soria Hay, founder of Bravura an independent investment banking firm specialising in corporate finance and structured solutions, with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Mauritius, Windhoek and Sydney.

This is evidenced in the United Kingdom where a government initiative requiring organisations to publish figures for the different amounts they pay men and women (the gender pay gap) has revealed a highly skewed employee base in leading British and some international banks.  The figures published in 2018 show that men earn almost 60% more than women on average at some of the UK's top financial institutions, for the same jobs. It includes international firms like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, which have large operations in Britain.

Citigroup Inc disclosed on 19 January 2019 that its female employees around the world are paid just 71% of what men earn.  Citigroup employs more than 200 000 people in more than 100 countries, and more than half those employees are female.  A Citigroup shareholder group that sought data on the pay gap said the bank is the first U.S. company to disclose such figures.

Hay says that in all probability, South Africa’s investment banking sector would reflect this trend, but here there is a dearth of targeted research, which is problematic in itself.  The most we can know is that given the global understanding for a solid business case for companies to embrace gender mainstreaming, there are guidelines such as in King IV and the JSE gender listing requirements to drive this notion forward.  Yet only one woman CEO has been recorded amongst the top 40 JSE listed companies, and she has just retired (Maria Ramos, ex CEO of Absa Group Limited.)

Against these headwinds, Soria Hay founded Bravura twenty years ago. Until today she is a significant force in the broader Bravura group and the team leader ofCorporate Finance at Bravura.  

Hay states that it has always been the Bravura philosophy that gender parity is fundamental to growing economies and creating business competitiveness.  

Yet in practical terms, women often still have to work much harder to carve a place for themselves in investment banking.  Hay says, “There are not many women in South Africa’s investment banking environment, and the ones who make it often have to be as hard as nails. Many companies have a ‘boys club’ which can be excluding, even if this might be unintentional.”

Hay was just 29 when she self-funded the establishment of Bravura with a bonus cheque from Mettle, where she had worked for two years.  She quickly gathered together a small team of three which besides herself consisted of a secretary and a corporate finance analyst.  Fast forward to today: Bravura employs around sixty self-starters and Hay sits on the Board of Bravura Holdings (listed in Mauritius and Namibia).

Even within her own company Hay sees an organic skew towards male employees.  She cites the reason for this as a recruitment pipeline in South Africa that somehow continues to attract and produce male graduates.  To remedy this, Bravura established a graduate programme aimed at actively attracting young, talented, Black female graduates. 

“We brought on board two eager and talented young graduates who are working with us - and learning from us - for a 12 to 24 -month period with the hope that they may become full-time employees at the conclusion of the programme,” says Hay.  “This is not lip service; it is an intensive programme and the graduates are active members of the team.  Our selected graduates are strong all-rounders, having produced exceptional academic results in parallel to leadership accolades.  They have an appetite to succeed in the investment banking environment.”

Hay cautions that there is a cycle of gender inequality in environments such as investment banking and the wider financial services sector.  “Research in financial services worldwide shows that although 90% of financial service company executives indicate a commitment to gender diversity, in practice only 19% of top executives are female. As many as 42% of US women surveyed in the financial services sector believe that gender would hinder their future advancement.

“At a senior level, the same research show only one in five executives are women,” adds Hay.  “As a consequence of having less women in senior roles there are fewer women to mentor and guide junior female executives (findings indicate that men and women tend to be mentored by the same gender).  This means that the cycle of women being lost to valuable guidance and potential promotion continues on.”

As for Hay’s happy place she says, “Since Bravura was founded twenty years ago, we have always sought to mentor staff members and provide equal opportunity based on skill and appetite.  Our bar is high because we deliver innovation and bespoke solutions to clients, which means that we never march out “the troops”.  We prefer to train them intensively, giving them exposure to maximum “on-the-job” learning and to balance clients’ requirements and optimal learning carefully. More importantly, our troops have never been based on gender.  

We recognise that to change the gender balance needs a concerted effort by multiple parties, from pipeline through promotion to independent dealmakers.  Our style has always been to grow investment banking in South Africa beyond the ‘fortress’ of male domination. 

With our graduate programme our intention is to increasingly widen the hiring net, and catch young female jewels upon graduation, in order to train them in the “Bravura Way”. Hopefully we springboard them into the main investment banking arena, having had exceptional exposure and on-the-job training from us.

PERSONAL FINANCE